It was one of the most beautiful markets in the city, with stalls organised by type around the outdoor plaza, well known for its focus on good value and guaranteed enthusiastic market banter!
For more than 100 years, it has provided cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables and flowers to the whole Esquilino borough. Built at the end of ‘800 not far from Termini station, it used to be a very busy place and later, following a first renovation in 1913, the market continued to flourish throughout the Fascist time, surviving the war and the black market that was taking place under the arcades of the square.
A walk through the stalls
After the war, the market began to grow again and the administrators – worried about the hygienic conditions of the square – started to think about a covered location, but for years the thought never translated into action.
In the meantime, the neighbourhood flourished, becoming more multi-ethnic. New colours, new fragrances and new flavours appeared at the market: from pervasive spices to bizarrely shaped vegetables, right up until September 15, 2001 – the last time the stalls were set up on the square before moving to the new Esquilino market.
The new market, managed by a cooperative of sellers, is inside the former Sani barracks , with entrances from via Principe Amedeo, via Mamiani, via Turati, via Lamarmora (there are two car parks: the underground one below the market and another one just aside Radisson hotel).
Chinese noodles and soya sauces, Romanian meat and cold cuts, unpronounceable vegetables such as Tapashi and Cassua, spices from all over the world and rice of any shape and flavour are just some of the products you can find there. A real melting pot, both of sellers and buyers. You will see Chinese buying from Chinese, Bengali from Bengali, Senegalese from Senegalese, all sure to understand each other and to find the right ingredients for their recipes.
And it’s a pleasure to observe the multicultural mix... Women with veils buying Chinese products, the Chinese queuing at Indian fish stalls, Roman housewives shopping at the Muslim halal butcher. One of the funniest game to play at the market is to find spelling mistakes on the fruit and vegetable signs: the bieda from Lazio (correct spelling bieTa), the Sicilian rncha (correct spelling ArAncIa), cikoria (correct spelling ciCoria)...
Among the stalls that took a special place in my heart throughout the years, are a butcher, who – long before the trend of ‘free-range’ hens – used to show the pictures of his chickens running happy around the court before being roasted, and a greengrocer calling his products ‘traditional’ because he follows the season cycle and sells his vegetables only at the right time of the year.
Next to the food market, there are some clothes, shoes and fabric stalls. The Indian fabric stalls are the most appealing ones, where a lot of women come to pick out the perfect fabric for a new sari.
“What beautiful Mummies, Daddies and children of all colours I saw at the market today! I had fun trying to understand their languages, even though I don’t know much of my own yet…
I saw seeds, strange fruits, coloured fabrics. I smelled mysterious scents and I cried because I really really wanted a banana.
I heard Mummy say that when she arrived in Rome, Piazza Vittorio market was outdoors and it was more genuine, louder and a little dirtier. I think she liked it better before, but me, this melting pot market, I like it a lot''.
Just around the corner
Now that the square has been cleared, the neighborhood has lost some of its multi-cultural appeal, but visitors will have the pleasure to discover some of its own attractions, once hidden among the market stalls. The most interesting one is the MAGIC DOOR (or ALCHEMY DOOR), at the northern corner of the park, surrounded by two statues of the Egyptian God Bes. With its Hebrew and Latin inscriptions, its symbols and mysterious stories, the door is a ‘must’ for all occultism lovers. It used to be the secondary entrance of a mansion built by marquise Massimiliano II Palombara to host magicians and scientists (even cheaters) who shared his passion for alchemy and were looking for the philosopher’s stone, able to transform common metals into gold. The legend says that a mysterious pilgrim had found the right formula and the marquise had it written on the doorjambs. There are many interesting readings on the meaning of the inscriptions and on the stories about the door if you wish to know more about it. But it’s worth to spend a few more words about the symbol on the pediment, really appreciated by those who like such a style. It represents Salomon’s seal: two triangles overlapping to form David’s star, enriched by a Latin cross and, at the bottom, an oculus, eye representing sun and gold in alchemy.
After all this esotericism, it’s time to move to one of the symbols of Christianity, the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, making a few stops along the way. The first one to take a look at a fabulous landscape of antique Rome, later held back by the tall buildings of Umbert times: GALLIENO’S ARCH, standing where, at the time of king Servio Tullio, Esquilina Door opened access to the city. The arch, now leaning on SS. Vito and Modesto church, on top of celebrating the emperor it was named after, had also a ‘business’ role: in the middle of XV century pope Niccolò V established there the border of a tax free zone for those who wanted to sell miscellaneous goods to pilgrims heading to S. Maria Maggiore. Actually, the whole area, at August’s time, was a big food market called Macellum Liviae, which passed its name to the church “S. Vito in macello” built in the neighborhood.
Before finishing your own pilgrimage at S. Maria Maggiore, it’s worth stopping by a smaller basilica, SANTA PRASSEDE, conserving few beautiful chapels and a couple of curiosities. The first one is the “flagellation column”, where Jesus Christ seems to have been tortured before crucifixion (but the same is claimed by some churches in Jerusalem, Venice, Padua, Ancona and Toledo), later brought to Italy by a member of Colonna family (in Italian colonna means column). The second interesting thing is the squared halo on pope Pasquale I head in the apsis mosaic: the halo is squared (rather than circular) to distinguish the characters that were still alive (at the time the mosaic was made) from the Saints ascended to Heaven, with a circular halo.
|where||via Principe Amedeo 184|
|open||Food: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 5:00-15:00 / Tuesday – Friday –Saturday 5:00 – 17:00|
A and B (Termini Station)